The Palace of Westminster
Western façade of Westminster Abbey
Westminster shown within Greater London
|OS grid reference|
|– Charing Cross||0.58 mi (0.9 km) NEbE|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Cities of London and Westminster|
|London Assembly||West Central|
Westminster (//) is an area of central London within the City of Westminster lying on the River Thames' north bank. Westminster's concentration of visitor attractions and historic landmarks, one of the highest in London, includes the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.
Historically within St Margaret's parish, City & Liberty of Westminster, Middlesex and the name Westminster is from an ancient description for Westminster Abbey's surrounds, literally West Minster or, before the abbey, monastery church. Pre-dating its being the seat of British government, it has continuously been the home of England's government since about 1200, High Middle Ages' Plantagenet times.
In a governmental context, Westminster often refers to Parliament itself, by virtue of its UNESCO World Heritage Palace of Westminster location. Also known as the Houses of Parliament, the closest tube stations are Westminster, St James Park and Waterloo.
The area is the centre of UK government, with Parliament in the Palace of Westminster and most of the major Government ministries on Victoria Street, Great Smith Street or the northern sub-neighbourhood Whitehall (a major street).
The area has a substantial residential population, indeed most of its listed buildings are residential. A proportion of residents are of a London working class community living in council and Peabody Trust estates spread across certain streets between Westminster Abbey and Millbank. Hotels, large Victorian homes and barracks exist towards the palace.
Westminster is typical of Central London toponymy which can be derived from a loose mixture of small ecclesiastical parishes, local government wards then later postcodes then neologisms and informal neighbourhood names such as Victoria, London which this area contains.
In any event Westminster, City of Westminster describes an area no more than 1 mile (1.6 km) from Westminster Abbey and Palace of Westminster north of the Thames. Its name derives from the west Minster, or monastery church, west of the City of London's St Paul's. The area has been the seat of the government of England for almost a thousand years. The name is also used for the larger City of Westminster which is one of the relatively homogeneously sized divisions of the capital ( London boroughs); and, since 1965, has included the former boroughs of Marylebone and Paddington.
The historic core of Westminster is the former Thorney Island on which Westminster Abbey was built and became the traditional venue of the coronation of the kings and queens of England.
From about 1200, near the abbey, the Palace of Westminster became the principal royal residence, marked by the transfer of royal treasury and financial records to Westminster, from Winchester. Later the palace housed the developing Parliament and England's law courts. Consequentiality, London developed two focal points: the City of London (financial economic) and, following the Royal Court, Westminster (political and cultural) – the distinction remains, as does the palace being Parliament's seat.
The monarchy later moved to the Palace of Whitehall a little towards the north-east. The law courts have since moved to the Royal Courts of Justice, close to the border of the City of London.
Charles Booth's poverty map showing Westminster in 1889 showed the full range of income and capital brackets living in adjacent streets within it; its central western area had become (by 1850) (the) Devil's Acre in the southern flood channel ravine of the Tyburn (stream), yet along Victoria Street and other small streets and squares were the highest colouring of social class in London, yellow/gold. The abject poverty with the clearance of this slum and drainage improvement has been shed from Westminster but there is a typical Central London property distinction within the area which is very acute, epitomised by grandiose 21st century developments, architectural high point listed buildings and nearby social housing (mostly non-council housing) buildings of the Peabody Trust founded by philanthropist George Peabody.
The Westminster area formed part of the City and Liberty of Westminster and the county of Middlesex. The ancient parish was St Margaret; after 1727 split into the parishes of St Margaret and St John. The area around Westminster Abbey formed the extra-parochial Close of the Collegiate Church of St Peter surrounded by—but not part of—either parish. Until 1900 the local council was the combined vestry of St Margaret and St John (also known as the Westminster District Board of Works from 1855 to 1887), which was based at Westminster City Hall on Caxton Street from 1883. The Liberty of Westminster, governed by the Westminster Court of Burgesses, also included St Martin in the Fields and several other parishes and places. Westminster had its own quarter sessions, but the Middlesex sessions also had jurisdiction. The area was transferred from Middlesex to the County of London in 1889 and the local government of Westminster was reformed in 1900 when the court of burgesses and parish vestries were abolished, to be replaced with a metropolitan borough council. The council was given city status, allowing it to be known as Westminster City Council.
Wider uses of the term
Thus "Westminster" with its focus in public life from earliest days is casually used as a metonym for Parliament and the political community of the United Kingdom generally (the civil service is similarly referred to by the northern sub-neighbourhood it inhabits, "Whitehall") and "Westminster" is consequently also used in reference to the Westminster system, the parliamentary model of democratic government that has evolved in the United Kingdom. This thrust of a state constitution and polity is used, with some adaptation, in many other nations, particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations and other parts of the former British Empire.
The term Westminster Village, sometimes used in the context of British politics, does not refer to a geographical area at all; employed especially in the phrase Westminster Village gossip, it denotes a supposedly close social circle of members of parliament, political journalists, so-called spin doctors and others connected to events in the Palace of Westminster and Government Ministries.
- "London's Places" (PDF). London Plan. Greater London Authority. 2011. p. 46. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
- Jacqueline Riding, All Change at the Palace of Westminster, BBC.
- Richard, Dennis (2008). Cities in Modernity: Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-46841-1.
- OS Map with Listed Buildings
- Manchee, W. H. (1924), The Westminster City Fathers (the Burgess Court of Westminster) 1585–1901: Being some account of their powers and domestic rule of the City prior to its incorporation in 1901; with a foreword by Walter G. Bell and 36 illustrations which relate to documents (some pull-outs) and artefacts. London: John Lane (The Bodley Head).
- Davies, E. A. (1952), An Account of the Formation and Early Years of The Westminster Fire Office; (Includes black-and-white photographic plates with a colour frontispiece of 'A Waterman' and a foreword by Major K. M. Beaumont. London: Country Life Limited for the Westminster Fire Office.
- Hunting, P. (1981), Royal Westminster. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Printed by Penshurst Press. ISBN 0-85406-127-4 (paper); ISBN 0-85406-128-2 (cased).
- Timbs, John (1867), "Westminster", Curiosities of London (2nd ed.), London: J.C. Hotten, OCLC 12878129
- London/Westminster travel guide from Wikivoyage
- Westminster Borough Council
- Westminster Walks – from Findlay Muirhead's 1927 guidebook to London and its Environs
- Westminster, by Sir Walter Besant and Geraldine Edith Mitton and A. Murray Smith, 1902, from Project Gutenberg
- Palmer's Village, a deserted village in Westminster